USC entered Saturday's matchup with one of the nation's top statistical defenses but was overwhelmed by a suddenly rejuvenated Sun Devil offense. Led by junior quarterback Taylor Kelly, Arizona State racked up 612 yards of offense while running away from the Trojans in the second half.
On the game's opening series, Kelly led ASU on a 10 play, 75 yard drive that was capped off by a one yard, Michael Eubank touchdown run. It was the 14th time under Head Coach Todd Graham that ASU scored first and ultimately set the tone for a game that would feature more than 100 combined points and 1,000 yards of offense.
Kelly completed 23 of his 34 pass attempts for 351 yards to go along with three touchdowns and one interception in the win. It marked the fourth consecutive game in which Kelly passed for 300 or more yards, a feat he accomplished on just three occasions last season.
The junior signal caller also led the Sun Devils with 79 yards rushing on four carries, finishing just two yards shy of equaling his career-high.
“It started off with (the offensive line)," remarked Kelly afterwards. "They came to work all week and they didn’t allow a sack tonight. They’re doing a great job; they’re starting to come together. I believe in these guys. We’re going to keep working, establish our running game, and then our offense starts going.”
“Communication was huge," added junior center Kody Koebensky. "We saw a lot of different looks tonight - they brought a lot of different linebackers and some secondary guys. As an offensive line, we were on the same page all night. As a unit, we saw things very well tonight, and Taylor did too. The whole offense did a good job seeing where that pressure was coming from.”
After falling behind early, the Trojans took advantage of a re-tooled Arizona State defense, which was without sophomore Jaxon Hood (ankle), by attacking the Sun Devil interior on the ground. USC running backs Tre Madden and Justin Davis combined for 258 yards rushing and put the Trojans ahead 21-20 on the opening drive of the second half on the second of Madden's three touchdowns for the game.
“Hopefully we get Jaxon back but let me tell you, that hurt us tonight," said Graham. "I don't know if you noticed right in the middle of the game we switched Gannon (Conway) back to end position. That was probably a really bad mistake because we actually had two new people and all of the stuff (USC) was doing, we were really discombobulated. So that really caused a lot of problems. Hopefully we can get Jaxon back, that'll help us a lot."
But the Sun Devils responded with 28 unanswered points of their own, including two touchdowns in 47 seconds, to take control of the contest. After a 74 yard D.J. Foster touchdown reception, Alden Darby recorded the first of his two interceptions in the quarter, which he returned 46 yards for a score.
For Darby, it was the second consecutive gamete has recorded a defensive touchdown against the Trojans, including a 70 yard interception return last season in Los Angeles. The senior also led the defense with seven tackles, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
“This week we all challenged ourselves in the secondary," said Darby. "We really picked it up. Last week we had too many alignment errors, too many mental mistakes, and critical errors in the secondary. So this week, we really challenged ourselves in practice not to have any critical errors and mental breakdowns. And tonight, our linemen were on point.”
Marion Grice, who rushed for 65 yards on 12 carries in the game, capped off the Sun Devil scoring surge with two of his game-high four touchdowns to close out the quarter, giving ASU a 48-21 it would not relinquish. With his four touchdowns on Saturday, Grice leads the country with 12 total touchdowns in 2013 and has scored 18 times in his last seven games for the Sun Devils.
“It feels good," said Darby on watching the offense explode in the third quarter. "I love when I’m on the sideline and I see the offense get rolling—it gets my hyped. We have an explosive offense. When I see the O-line picking up key blocks, receivers making key catches, and TK (Taylor Kelly) running the ball, I just get excited on the sideline. It gives us momentum on defense, to know that our offense can’t be stopped. It feels good to see our offense rolling like that.”
“This whole season we were trying to push our running game," added offensive lineman Evan Finkenberg. "This week we were really hammering the ball, doing a lot more inside runs, a lot of different technique stuff. When you start getting that push in the front five, all of a sudden our offense opens up really well and the receivers start getting better looks, and things start going a little faster for us.”
USC would pull within 14 points with less than 10 minutes to play, following touchdowns by Madden and the first of two fourth quarter scores by Davis, but the Sun Devils once again pulled away on the ground. Grice capped off a five play, 65 yard drive with a 28 yard touchdown run followed by a Deantre Lewis one yard scoring rush, which was set up by a 45 yard run by the junior from Norco, CA, just outside if Los Angeles.
“I think it says that we’re an explosive offense," said Jamil Douglas about the Sun Devil rushing attack. "There’s been a lot of talk about our running game. I think we did a good job with the whole offense, showing that we can run the ball as well as pass the ball because we had a lot of passing yards too. I think it just shows that we’re an explosive offense.”
With the win, the Sun Devils were able to bounce back after suffering their first defeat of the season last week at Stanford. Arizona State improved to 1-0 in divisional play and will have momentum heading into their showdown next weekend against Notre Dame in Dallas and the rest of their conference schedule.
“It’s huge," said Kelly. "We have to win the South in order to achieve our goal, and USC is a big competitor there. They’re always a great team and they have a bunch of great athletes, so it’s a big game and a lot of our guys are from there so it was a high emotion game.”
“In order to win the South, you have to beat USC," added Darby. "No question about it. No matter what they lacked in previous games, no matter what weaknesses they’ve shown, in order to win the South you have to beat USC. A lot of us are from SoCal, so the switch just goes on and doesn’t go off when we play those guys. The main thing is, we want to challenge each other this week, and have that same switch against any other team for the rest of the season, not just when we play against USC.”